Niyaz, Niyaz (Six Degrees Records). Remember about six years ago when Cheb Mami guested on that godawful Sting vehicle "Desert Rose"? His brief cameo was the only thing that made that Jaguar jingle even remotely tolerable. Well, imagine an entire album filled with similarly blissed-out arias, only sung by a female, and you've got this exotic rose. -- Dave Herrera
Little Barrie, We Are Little Barrie (Artemis). Guys like Steve Cropper managed to become legendary soul musicians -- and still be whiter than a bottle of Elmer's. Not so with Britain's Barrie Cadogan, also known as Little Barrie. Hawking the clumsiest, most retarded honky-ass funk this side of "Scooby Snacks," Cadogan's mauling of late-'60s R&B would have gotten laughed out of Motown. Stevie Wonder ought to sue. -- JH
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Blue Merle, Burning in the Sun (Island). You know that song you've been hearing on the radio, the one that you thought was by Coldplay, that made you buy X&Y only to be disappointed by its glaring omission? Yeah. Sorry Œbout that. "Burning in the Sun" is actually by these Nashville plagiarists. Feel like you've been ripped off? How do you think Chris Martin feels? -- DH
Pelican, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (Hydra Head). Like some post-rock ghoul glutted on the corpse of '80s power metal, Pelican's sophomore album takes the sprawling structure of early Trans Am and feeds it the most megalithic of riffs. Vocals? Fuck Œem. Epic, ambient and unrepentantly instrumental, Fire is an IQ-heavy masterpiece of moody melody and nearly lung-busting atmosphere. -- JH
Meshuggah, Catch Thirty-Three (Nuclear Blast). Evidently, when mathletes get bored breaking down complicated equations, they dumb things down a bit to engage the more remedial students. Problem is, Meshuggah can make even using an abacus seem complex. Although Catch contains markedly less challenging riff and rhythm structures than past efforts, it'll still leave folks scratching their heads. Here's to pi in the face. -- DH
Mayday, Bushido Karaoke (Saddle Creek). Cursive is the best band on Saddle Creek -- due in no small part to guitarist Ted Stevens. Bushido Karaoke, the new disc by Stevens's side project, Mayday, echoes all his day gig's cleverness and sweeping eclecticism. And while his cottonmouth gum-flapping fails to convey much conviction or emotion, Karaoke is at least an intriguing footnote to Cursive's brilliance. -- JH